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Pizzutti's Restaurant

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Location: 709 Bellefonte St., Shadyside. 412-687-1022.
Hours: Mon.-Sat. lunch 11:00 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner 5-9 p.m. (10 p.m. Fri. and Sat.)
Prices: Appetizers, soups and salads $5-10; entrees $11-24
Fare: Italian
Atmosphere: Cozily romantic
Liquor: BYOB

They say you never forget your first love. In Jason’s case, that would be Miss Pizzutti, the first-grade teacher at Annunciation School with red hair and a real way with the Weekly Reader. Close to 30 years later, he still gets that look in his eyes when he hears her name. So, although Shadyside’s new Pizzutti's is no relation, it is safe to say that he and Angelique approached dinner there with differing degrees of anticipation: Angelique wondering simply if she could get a good ravioli, Jason if Pizzutti’s cooking was worthy of his schoolboy crush.

To find out, we strolled leaf-lined sidewalks to one of Walnut Street’s quieter tributaries. To those Pittsburghers whose mental mapping relies on this sort of information, Pizzutti's occupies the space of the former Le Perroquet, reopened as an Italian restaurant. Pizzutti's does not yet have a liquor license, so the small bar at the front serves mostly as an elegant vestibule through which we passed into the first of two interior dining rooms. Despite their windowlessness, these rooms feel curtained and cozy, their washed terra-cotta walls adorned with reproductions of Italian art

Our waitress promptly supplied us with complimentary glasses of wine, a plate of olive oil, red onions, tomatoes and herbs, and a basket of Italian bread with which to sponge it up. Though the bread was more grocery-store grade than artisanal, it fortified us for contemplating the menu, which is traditional Italian and boasts of pastas mostly homemade, including a selection of whole-wheat noodles.

To start, we shared Plata di Casa, a meat and cheese plate featuring salami, prosciutto, brie and manchego -- young, as we both prefer. A bit surprised by the absence of Italian cheese, we were shocked by the olives -- pitted black ones more reminiscent of Thanksgiving dinner than the groves of bell’Italia. Jason’s mushroom soup restored our faith a bit. Earthy with a savory, not-too-creamy broth, it was a good bowl of a great soup.

Angelique was intrigued by the J.M. salad, named after one of the restaurant’s regular patrons, but succumbed to her weakness for Caesar salad instead. Pizzutti’s version of this classic distinguished itself with fresh, crunchy croutons and a lemony-sweet dressing. But it was served with two anchovies crossed in an X on top, an attractive presentation but one which forced her to either eat the fish whole in two unbearably salty bites or go to great pains to divvy them up herself and distribute them throughout the salad, as ideally they would be eaten.

Along with favoring Miss Pizzutti, Jason is inordinately fond of linguini with white clam sauce, which humorist Fran Liebowitz once described as the pinnacle of human achievement. Oddly, we’ve found this dish a real rarity on local Italian menus (odder still since it does not rely on fresh clams). So when we saw that Pizzutti offers clams vongole (in the shell) with a lemon-white wine sauce, Jason didn’t hesitate. The homemade noodles were cooked beautifully, al dente being easier on the teeth when the pasta has never fully dried. The clams were tender and freshly briny, but the rest of the sauce, dominated by a slightly bitter lemon flavor, simply failed to come together, leaving the excellent pasta without peer.

Similarly, Angelique’s ravioli of the day -- roasted red pepper -- featured first-rate pasta in an otherwise unremarkable dish. The sauce, described by our waitress as a tomato-cream, actually appeared to be standard tomato marinara. The ravioli filling, too, betrayed little, if any, of the sweet-smoky presence of roasted peppers.

Our meal ended on a supremely positive note, however, with Pizzutti’s delicious signature dessert: a shot of limoncello frozen in the center of a scoop of gelato and served in a chilled martini glass. Cold, creamy, sweet and sour, it was the treat our taste buds had been waiting for all night, to be remembered as dreamily as Miss Pizzutti herself. Jason: 1.5 stars
Angelique: 2 stars

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